Tuesday 24 November 2009

2009/2010 Summer of Cricket: The Great Peter Siddle Myth...

The Great Peter Siddle Myth...
(as of November 2009)

In typical cricket karma style... a year to almost the day since this article was penned - Peter Siddle took 6/54 including a Hat-Trick to skittle England on Day One of the 1st Ashes Test of 2010/2011 at the Gabba.
Siddle is given his due credit in this article on the Winners & Losers of Day One... but what was written below was pretty much spot on until today... unless of course Australia don't win the Test Match after Siddle's greatest contribution to Australia so far.
Get more on the current Ashes Series here.

Back to the Original November 2009 Article...

You've heard the scouting report. Hits the pitch hard, tough, aggressive and relentless.

Even Cricinfo gets in on the love fest: With a charging run-up, powerful delivery, worrying bounce and elongated appeal, Peter Siddle made a lasting mark in 2008-09 as he stepped up from promising domestic bowler to a speedster who could be part of Australia's attack for years.

Now for the reality.

Peter Siddle is the most over-rated Australian bowler since the days of Brendon Julian*.

You can't include the likes of Scott 'Can't bowl, can't throw' Muller, Paul 'Blocker' Wilson, Shaun 'A Test is how many days in a row?' Tait and Simon 'Do you even remember me I played two Tests' Cook because they never received the same kind of deliriously delusional hype that Siddle has had in the past year. They may have been members of the Australian team at one point but they were warming the chairs of established players and none of them were given the 'You've arrived' acceptance that Siddle has in 2009.

This reputation he has built as the 'strong man' of Australian cricket bemuses me.
In the three Test Match Series Australia have contested with Siddle as a permanent fixture in the side, we have lost a home series to South Africa, won a series in South Africa and lost the Ashes in England.

Hardly a sign he's been a revelation in the Australian team.

Peter Siddle's statistics from 12 Test Matches (2008-2009):

12 Tests
49 Wickets @ 28.93
2.99 Economy Rate
57.8 Strike Rate
4 Wickets in an Innings: 2
5 Wickets in an Innings: 2

Stuart Clark, the bowler Siddle has been holding out of the Test Team for most of 2009, has these statistics in Test Cricket (2006-2009):

24 Tests
94 Wickets @ 23.86
2.61 Economy Rate
54.7 Strike Rate
4 Wickets in an Innings: 6
5 Wickets in an Innings: 2

Now statistically you might think - not a great deal of difference. Clark is obviously a tighter bowler but as for wickets and strike rate - fairly even.

But when you look at each bowler's impact on the first three series they have played in - there's little doubt which bowler looks the goods.

And no it isn't the guy with the Southern Cross tatt...

Peter Siddle has played in three full series (3 Test Series or more) - Series A: South Africa in Australia, Series B: Australia in South Africa and Series C: Australian in England.

Series A: 3 Test Matches v South Africa. South African won 2-0. Siddle took 13 wickets but 8 of them came in the dead rubber at Sydney and included just 2 top order (1-6) wickets. For all his pace and bounce he produced just 1/128 at the WACA when Australia could not defend 414 and despite taking 4/81 in the South African's first innings in the 2nd Test at the MCG - South Africa's 459 set up the game for their Series clinching win.
13 Wickets @ 27.38 including 1 Test Win, 2 Losses and 4 Top Order Wickets (1-6).

Series B: 3 Test Matches v South Africa. Australia won 2-1. Siddle made his best contribution to a victory in Test cricket to date in the opening Test, taking 6 wickets (4 of which were top order wickets) in Australia's 162 run win. In the 2nd Test, despite barely featuring in the first innings he took 3 top order wickets in the second dig to help Australia to a series winning lead. But in the 3rd Test he failed to make any inroads with just one early wicket in a South African total of 651 - an Australian loss.
12 wickets @ 22.50 including 2 Test Wins, 1 Loss and 8 Top Order Wickets (1-6).

Series C: 5 Test Matches v England. England won 2-1. Siddle's contributions in England were few and far between. The standout moment of the series for Siddle wasn't his lower order demolition of England at Leeds but his inability to get Graeme Swann out after peppering him with bouncers during the final day of the 1st Test. If Siddle gets Swann out there the English resistance would have faltered, instead Swann went on to 31 and bat for over an hour which was critical in the context of the match. Siddle may have returned 20 wickets in the series but he was largely all huff and puff rather than results and Australia's lone victory in the series is evidence of that fact. If Siddle carries his weight in that series (Mitchell Johnson was just as poor) like Ben Hilfenhaus did - Australia win the 2009 Ashes.
Perhaps the most significant stat was that England passed 300 six times in ten innings (including 400 twice) with Siddle 'leading' the attack.
20 wickets @ 30.80 including 1 Test Win, 2 Losses and 11 Top Order Wickets (1-6).

Conversely, here are Stuart Clark's first three full series (3 Test Series or more) - Series A: Australia in South Africa 2006, Series B: England in Australia 2006/07 and Series C: India in Australia 2007/08.

Series A: 3 Test Matches v South Africa. Australia won 3-0. Stormed onto the international Test scene with a Player of the Series award and 9 wickets in his first test. You can argue having Brett Lee and Shane Warne alongside him was a giant boost but still 14 top order wickets out of 20 is a superb stat considering the talent he was bowling with.

20 wickets @ 15.85 including 3 Test Wins and 14 Top Order Wickets (1-6).

Series B: 5 Test Matches v England.
Australia won 5-0. Australia's clean sweep of the 2006/2007 Ashes Series was the swansong of Langer, McGrath and Warne but it was Stuart Clark's series. He took more wickets than Warne, McGrath and Lee as the Australians sent the English packing in a dominant summer. Clark's 17 top order wickets and the fact England only scored above 300 three times in ten innings is a glowing endorsement of his impact on the series.
26 wickets @ 17.03 including 5 Test Wins and 17 Top Order Wickets (1-6).

Series C: 4 Test Matches v India. Australia won 2-1. Significantly Clark's first long series without Warne or McGrath in the lineup (Australia had swept a 2 Test Series with Sri Lanka earlier in the 2007/08 Summer) but the first with Mitchell Johnson as a fixture in the team. Clark wasn't dominant against India but with the series won 2-1 in a tight affair - he was Australia's best bowler (despite Lee taking more wickets). Australia romped home in the 1st Test by 337 runs with Clark the destroyer in the Indian first innings with 4/28 dismissing Dravid, Tendulkar, Singh and Dhoni. Australia won the 2nd Test, lost the 3rd and drew the 4th to win the series and although Clark was ineffective wickets wise in the last match - Australia still won the series.
14 wickets @ 28.21 including 2 Test Wins, 1 loss, 1 draw and 9 Top Order Wickets (1-6).

Now you can argue that Clark's last couple of years in Test cricket have been poor, but remember an elbow injury plagued this period and the selectors seemed to ignore his past record when finally fit - instead sticking with Siddle.

One only has to look at Clark's performance in the first innings of the 4th Ashes Test in 2009 to see what he has to offer.

Perhaps the most significant statistic that seems to escape consideration at the Australian selection table is the Australian Team Record when Stuart Clark plays a full Test Match Series.

Australia have won ALL SIX Test Series that Stuart Clark has played a full part in.

Yet we keep picking Peter Siddle ahead of him.

The most ironic part of the Siddle love comes with the desire of the Australian selectors to find a replacement for the leadership of the attack that Glenn McGrath took into retirement with him. They'll ignore some mediocre performances from the Victorian in the hope he'll eventually step up. But those same selectors failed to back the genuine wicket taking ability of Jason Krejza as they searched for a replacement for Shane Warne.

That's not to say Nathan Hauritz won't do a good job this summer but if Krejza was given the same treatment that Siddle has received - Australia might have the kind of wicket taking weapon an attack featuring the likes of Johnson and Siddle need to get better.

But they cast Krejza off after apparently he alone was the reason South Africa chased over 400 to win a Test Match... at the WACA.

As an Australian, I hope Siddle is going to have a big summer in 2009/2010 - beginning with the 3 Test Match Series with the West Indies at the Gabba on Thursday. However I am still yet to see what all the fuss surrounding Peter Siddle is about when there is a guy like Stuart Clark being wasted at Sheffield Shield level - despite the fact he has at least a couple of quality summers of cricket left in him.
*As for Brendon Julian, the next great left arm bowling hope for Australia entering the 1993 Ashes... 7 Test Matches, 15 wickets @ 39.93, 3.27 economy rate, 73.2 strike rate, one 4 wicket haul in innings and his Test career was over by 1995.

But Julian was part of the 1995 Frank Worrell Trophy win in the West Indies and at the end of the day winning is all that matters... although evidently not for selectors when it comes to picking between Peter Siddle and Stuart Clark.

Thursday 19 November 2009

2009/2010 Summer of Cricket: Australian Team for First Test with West Indies at Gabba.

Australian selectors have picked the following 12 man squad for the First Test of the 2009/2010 Summer of Cricket against the West Indies at the Gabba starting November 26.

Stuart Clark is the big omission - being left out despite his success on Australian soil - with NSW teammate Doug Bollinger preferred for the Gabba Test Squad.

The Likely Test Lineup from the 12 man squad is:
Shane Watson
Simon Katich
Ricky Ponting (c)
Michael Clarke
Michael Hussey
Marcus North
Brad Haddin
Mitchell Johnson
Nathan Hauritz
Peter Siddle
Ben Hilfenhaus
Doug Bollinger (Likely 12th Man)

When the Australian selectors pick a side do they actually consider the value of a bowler who can bowl line and length?

One of the big reasons we didn't struggle mightily post-McGrath was the Stuart Clark factor... but how quickly the selectors forget what is vital to the makeup of a bowling attack.

Clark may win a reprieve if Peter Siddle fails to recover from a side strain but his Test Career now looks in serious doubt.

Which is a shame because he remains Australia's best Test Match bowler... who can't get a start in a Test Match.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

2009/2010 Summer of Cricket: Australia host West Indies & Pakistan.

2009/2010 Summer of Cricket:
Australia host West Indies & Pakistan.

After a hectic international schedule overseas in 2009, the Australian Cricket Team will host 6 Tests and what seems like a million one day games from November to February.

The 2009 Test Tours saw Australia lose the Ashes once again on English soil 2-1 (that's two on the trot 2005 & 2009) but defeat South Africa in South Africa 2-1.

The 2009 One Day International schedule yielded another Champions Trophy title (beating New Zealand in the Final and going undefeated in the tournament), a near clean sweep in England 6-1, beat Pakistan 3-2 in the UAE, a 3-2 loss in South Africa, defeated Scotland in a one-off game and finally rallied from 2-1 down in the Best of Seven in India to claim the series 4-2 (with 1 game washed out).

As for Twenty20 Cricket... spare me. It's fun to watch but means absolutely nothing on an international status scale.

All in all - the sting of losing the Ashes casts a major shadow over what the Australians accomplished away from home shores in 2009 and the significance of losing the little urn once again should be driving the Australians throughout the summer.

Sure a Champions Trophy, a Test Series win in South Africa and a upset win in the One Day Series against India is great - but the Ashes and the World Cup are the two events on the calendar Australia strive to win above everything else, and we lost one of them.

The 2009/2010 Australian Summer of Cricket Schedule:

West Indies in Australia
<> First Test:
Australia v West Indies
Nov 26-30 @ Gabba, Brisbane.
<> Second Test: Australia v West Indies
Dec 4-8 @ Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
<> Third Test: Australia v West Indies
Dec 16-20 @ WACA, Perth
<> One Day Series
Game 1: Sun Feb 7 @ MCG, Game 2: Tue Feb 9 @ Adelaide Oval, Game 3: Fri Feb 12 @ SCG, Game 4: Sun Feb 14 @ Gabba, Game 5: Fri Feb 19 @ MCG.
<> Twenty20 Series
Game 1: Sun Feb 21 @ Bellerive Oval, Game 2: Tue Feb 23 @ SCG.

Pakistan in Australia
<> First Test: Australia v Pakistan
Dec 26-30 @ MCG, Melbourne
<> Second Test: Australia v Pakistan
Jan 3-7 @ SCG, Sydney
<> Third Test: Australia v Pakistan
Jan 14-18 @ Bellerive Oval, Hobart
<> One Day Series
Game 1: Fri Jan 22 @ Gabba, Game 2: Sun Jan 24 @ SCG, Game 3: Tue Jan 26 @ Adelaide Oval, Game 4: Fri Jan 29 @ WACA, Game 5: Sun Jan 31 @ WACA.
<> Twenty20 Series
Game 1: Fri Feb 5 @ MCG.

All in all that's 19 Games of Cricket and up to 43 days of cricket from November 26 until February 23.

I'm not about to say we play too much cricket over summer - because if you're going to play lots of cricket make sure it is on Australian soil and during summer; but the saddest part of this glut of cricket is that both Test Series are only three games and the One Day Series is not a Triangular Tournament. As for the Twenty20s - as I said before - who cares?

Australia's Test Squad will likely be made up of the following 16 players:
Ricky Ponting (c), Michael Clarke (vc), Simon Katich Shane Watson, Michael Hussey, Marcus North, Phillip Hughes, Brad Haddin (wk), Andrew McDonald, Nathan Hauritz, Jason Krejza, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Stuart Clark, Doug Bollinger.

There is one true bolter for a Test Spot if injuries hit hard: Steven Smith from NSW.

Smith is a right arm leg-spinner who can bat.

Rather than the Cameron White variety of right arm leg spinner who can bat but cannot bowl. Plus he won't be 21 until midway through 2010, so he's certainly one to keep an eye on if given an opportunity this summer.

Brett Lee may also come into Test calculations but he re-injured his elbow on the weekend in a Domestic One Day Game and has to be considered a long shot for the any Tests this summer.

As for the One Day Squad - look for Steven Smith to definitely get a run at some stage and for Travis Birt to be the bolter as Brad Haddin's backup if Tim Paine isn't fit.

All in all the Summer of Cricket for 2009/2010 should be a green and gold one. The West Indies look very light on bowling options entering the Test Series (although they may be a real threat in the One Dayers), while the Pakistani's bring their enigmatic sensibility to both forms of the game - one day they could be world beaters and non-factors the next.

There is some great news however from the broadcast booth with the doyen of cricket - Richie Benaud agreeing to stay on our screens in Australia for another three seasons.

The only downside is that he will be irregular member of the commentary box and unfortunately that means more and more of Mark Nicholas...

Still some Richie is better than none at all!

Who are your bolters for the Australian Test & One Day Teams?

Will Australia dominate the Summer of Cricket in 2009/2010?

Monday 16 November 2009

2009 Four Nations Final: Lockyer brilliant as Australia run rampant in final quarter, defeat England 46-16.

Never write off a champion.

Australia defeat England 46-16 in Four Nations Final at Elland Road, Leeds on November 14, 2009.

For the past two seasons since Darren Lockyer had his knee reconstructed, some sections of the media and a fickle fan base have been telling anyone who would listen that the Australian, Queensland and Brisbane captain was past it.

They said he was "too fragile, too slow" and "no longer capable of being the dominant player" we saw since his 1995 debut.

But how quickly we forget what makes champions, champions.

Lockyer produced another superb performance in a big game, leading the Australian Kangaroos to an emphatic 46-16 victory in the 2009 Four Nations Final against England.

The game was evenly poised with 25 minutes to go, Australia up 18-16 after Billy Slater scored his first try of the match but then Lockyer instigated a final quarter that produced some breathtaking rugby league. The try he set up for Billy Slater when he was jonny-on-the-spot in support, should tell people he's far from finished. The fact he also set up at least three other tries might also be a good indicator too... and his team won the game.

The English had deserved their 16-14 lead when lock forward Sam Burgess scored his second try of the match from a fine Gareth Ellis short ball, but when Lockyer decided the game was there to be won, he combined with Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater to obliterate the English defence in the last 20 minutes.

Slater ended with a hat-trick, Thurston picked his spots as well as he has all year, Lockyer had four try assists, Cameron Smith was everywhere around the ruck, Nathan Hindmarsh proved once again he should be in every rep team picked, starting props Petero Civoniceva and Ben Hannant showed how good they were as the Australian bench offered nothing when they were replaced, Jarryd Hayne got more involved as we hoped, Brett Morris put his hand up as the best finishing winger in the country, Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis did their job well and Greg Inglis was making his case for the title of the game's best player with another HUGE play when his team needed it.

As good as England played in the opening 60 minutes (Burgess, Ellis and Peacock were outstanding), Australia were better. And in that flurry of try after try to end the game - they showed everyone what is possible when the best players in the world turn it on.
Sam Burgess will be a success in the NRL - injury free we hope. And what this game told us was the more English players who back themselves to come over to Australia to test themselves the better for the international game. Gareth Ellis will be even better in 2010 and looked excellent during the Four Nations, while we can only lament the lack of Jamie Peacock on our shores in the past decade. And it was great to see Adrian Morley again - what a great player he is.

Lockyer now enters a new two-year contract with the Brisbane Broncos. He said in the press conference that his gut tells him he won't be back in England in Australian colours again but he refused to say he was done with representative Rugby League.
One thing this performance showed us all is that Lockyer - at his best - is still a champion player.

Everyone wanted to tell Andrew Johns he was almost done before the 2006 NRL Season and he produced arguably his finest regular season in the twilight of his career - only a fool would say Lockyer isn't capable of doing the same with Brisbane in 2010.

@ Elland Road, Leeds. 14th November 2009.
Tries: Billy Slater 3 (54th, 69th, 77th), Brett Morris 2 (14th & 59th), Greg Inglis (25th), Cameron Smith (67th), Jarryd Hayne (73rd).
Goals: Johnathan Thurston 7/9 Attempts.
Tries: Sam Burgess 2 (10th & 50th), Peter Fox (19th).
Goals: Kevin Sinfield 2/3 Attempts.

- Match Highlights -
Poor Quality but only video on YouTube that delivers.

Which Morris twin is this?
Give you a clue... he scored at least one try in the Final.
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Wednesday 11 November 2009

Analysing the 2011 Cricket World Cup Draw...

The 2011 Cricket World Cup taking place from February 21 to April 2 in India, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh announced the tournament schedule at a ceremony in London this week.

Dhaka in Bangladesh will host the opening ceremony and the first game between the Bangladeshis and Indians on February 21, 2011. Mumbai in India will host the Final on April 2. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have absorbed the majority of the games Pakistan were to have hosted, after the country lost co-hosting rights for the tournament in the wake of terrorist attacks during a Test Match against Sri Lanka earlier this year.

The Games have been split as such:
India - 29 Games.
Sri Lanka - 12 Games.
Bangladesh - 8 Games.

This edition of the tournament sees the abandonment of the confusing 'Super Sixes' stage of the World Cup and instead there are two groups of eight nations competing for the eight quarter final spots.

The top four nations from each group will advance and be seeded for the quarter final stages. Then two semi finals will determine who plays off in the World Cup Final in Mumbai.

The Quarter Finals will be played at Dhaka (2 Games), Colombo (1 Game) & Ahmedabad (1 Game), while Columbo and Mohali will host the Semi Finals.

But sadly the structure of the preliminary round games leaves a lot to be desired.

> Pakistan who lost their hosting rights will now play all their games in Sri Lanka - so will do very little travel (whereas a lot of teams will play in all three countries).

> While for some reason Sri Lanka play one of their marquee games (their last group match) against New Zealand in Mumbai. This boggles the mind.

> Two Quarter Finals will be held in Dhaka yet probable qualifiers Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, New Zealand and England (who play in Chittagong against Bangladesh) will not have played a game on the surface before the match.

> And now there's the biggest issue...

Given the tournament has been reorganised into just two groups for the preliminary stage - there are a lot more 'big countries v little countries' in the draw. This isn't so much of an issue from a spectator point of view as it is a television one. Sometimes watching a little nation take on a big one in cricketing terms is quite entertaining but if you thumb through the TV guide and see that on tonight I can choose between New Zealand v Kenya and Sri Lanka v Canada - you're not about to move heaven and earth to be in front of the box.

If you look at the schedule the first week of the 2011 Cricket World Cup is an absolute dud.

Bangladesh v India is the closest thing to a marquee matchup on the opening night, it is then followed by from Feb 19-23 in order: New Zealand v Kenya, Sri Lanka v Canada, Australia v Zimbabwe, England v Netherlands and then Kenya backing up again v Pakistan. That means we don't see the South Africa, West Indies or Ireland in the first week of competition and February 24 marks the first real strong contest of the tournament when South Africa take on the West Indies.

So after a dull opening week we then get the first slab of key matchups with South Africa v West Indies, Australia v New Zealand, Sri Lanka v Pakistan and India v England in over just four days.

This is insanity from a marketing perspective.

Surely the first week would feature either the first run of big games straight up to maximise exposure that the opening ceremony brings with it or try and ensure that at least one strong game is played every 2 or 3 days. Evidently the organisers think that stacking their big games back to back is the right way to do things...

After the India v England game on Feb 27, we have to wait until March 5 before the next big game when Sri Lanka host Australia. The very next day England play South Africa as the schedule dulls two quality games by playing them back to back.

Considering how important the first week of a major international competition is when attempting to capture a fresh audience - the ICC have produced an appalling draw for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

The two groups are:
GROUP A: Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Canada & Kenya.
GROUP B: India, South Africa, England, West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland & Netherlands.

Group A will most likely see the top four seeds advance but Bangladesh in particular cannot be dismissed as a threat in Group B.

But having said all of the above, the tournament doesn't start for another 466 days... so we'll pick this point of contention back up in about a year.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

2010 NRL Premiership Preview & Primer: October 30 Edition

NRL 2010 Premiership Preview & Primer:

Follow the NRL the right way @ The NRL Tweet

Please join our 'NOT The Footy Show' Fox Sports Fantasy NRL League - CODE: 1756-4389

In 2010 'NOT The Footy Show' goes weekly on YouTube.

Our Season Preview covers all 16 NRL Premiership clubs and you can view every part via the Playlist below.

Keep checking this site and The NRL Tweet for links to more videos!

The preview below was created in October 2009 for the 2010 NRL Season - obviously injuries/player signings/other factors have happened since (Justin Hodges out for season, Mason goes to Cowboys, Todd Carney staying sober etc) - so this is only a preliminary guide of where we think each team will finish. Our picks WILL change - but this is how we saw the teams a month after the 2009 Season ended.

<> Please check out the 'NOT The Footy Show' Video Previews for our FINAL 2010 Predictions and look out for our comprehensive FANTASY NRL Guide here. <>

The original Preview & Primer by The NRL Tweet:

Although the 2009 National Rugby League Premiership season was only completed earlier this month and the international Four Nations Tournament has just begun, fans across the league are keen to see where their team stacks up against the competition for next year.

The Melbourne Storm deserved their 2009 title with their 23-16 win over the Parramatta Eels in the Grand Final, capping off a season in which they had to find a new way to play to make themselves a genuine premiership contender. Things didn't look great for them midway through the season but once superstar centre Greg Inglis was allowed to play again following an off-field incident - the Storm found their rhythym very quickly and no team could withstand them in the Finals.

So who are the big improvers, the teams on the slide and the genuine contenders for 2010?

All teams listed in a tentative prediction of their regular season finish for 2010 - not where the teams will be ranked after the Finals are played.

2010 NRL PREDICTED LADDER - 30/10/2009
Certainly capable of returning to the Grand Final for a 5th straight season with their stable of super stars. Have two premierships from the past four seasons and their young brigade (particularly up front) stepped up to the plate in the Finals in 2009. Sika Manu, Aiden Tolman and Chase Stanley to get plenty of press as they leap into rep calcuations in 2010. The elite four of Inglis, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk to be near on irrepressible once more - a Minor Premiership is there for the taking.
Best Signing: Chase Stanley.
Early Tip: Greg Inglis to score over a try per game (possibly cracking the 25 try mark).
Still have question marks surrounding their forward pack (and have since the loss of Petero Civoniceva) and losing Dave Taylor to Souths doesn't help. Plus the backline no longer features Karmichael Hunt, so there's opportunities in Brisbane for 2010. But Darren Lockyer remains and new signing Tim Smith is a true x-factor if Ivan Henjak can find him a place in the side. As for the season, I have a feeling they are going to be better than the sum of their parts with the best of Israel Folau coming in 2010.
Best Signing: Denan Kemp.
Early Tip: Denan Kemp and Lockyer to rotate at fullback to allow Tim Smith to start at halfback.
This ranking of third hinges on the acquisition of Lote Tuqiri and Jeff Lima. They may get both, one or none of those internationals but if they do sign for 2010 - the Tigers have a delicious mix for a premiership assault. Yes they haven't been back to the Finals since their title in 2005 but they still have two of the best in the game in Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall and that's enough to back them to win more than they lose. Plus their forward pack finally has some serious depth - and that is spun gold during the regular season.
Best Signing: Jason Cayless (but if Jeff Lima or Lote Tuqiri if they sign).
Early Tip: Gareth Ellis to unleash his ball playing skills and become the dominant backrower in the NRL.
Russell Crowe's touches on the team are starting to become clearer. He made the Sam Burgess signing happen when possibly no other league 'heavy' could have convinced the youngster to defect to the NRL at just 20 years of age - and he's got the veteran coach he and CEO Shane Richardson wanted in John Lang. Add boom forward Dave Taylor and experienced front rower Ben Ross to the mix and the Rabbitohs strength will be up front. May have lost Craig Wing but it is time for John Sutton to stand up and make the team his - like he did for a short period in 2009 when he was dominant.
Best Signing: Dave Taylor & Sam Burgess (Tie)
Early Tip: Souths to be 5-0 entering their Round 6 clash with Parramatta. 
Made gigantic strides in 2009 to almost claim the Minor Premiership a season after collecting the Wooden Spoon and were always going to be tested in the Finals when another level was required. The effort was certainly there against the Eels in their epic Preliminary Final but they looked short of attacking options when it mattered most. The backline just got quicker with El Masri's retirement (but there's drawbacks to his loss) and the Josh Morris-Bryson Goodwin combination is as good as any in the game. However this team must get more from Ben Roberts at five-eighth - he's capable on his day but with Brett Kimmorley as the organiser of the team - Roberts must be the go-to man in the 20m zone.
Best Signing: Mickey Paea.Early Tip: The Bulldogs will miss Hazem El Masri's goalkicking immensely. Goodwin, Ennis & Turner all to have a crack at the job during 2010.
Flaming out in the Finals was not what the majority of Dragons fans expected heading into September but the reality was this side had to find another gear to keep winning at the pointy end of the season. They were fantastic during the regular season and defensively were superb but relying on defence come Finals time is dangerous if your attack isn't capable of digging you out of a hole when your defence fails. St.George-Illawarra were opportunists in attack for much of 2009 and come Finals time those opportunistic tries dry up - and we all saw what happened. But don't you dare blame Wayne Bennett for that - he focused on their defensive mindset in year one for a reason - get the team competitive and then work on the attack in years two and three.
Best Signing: Wendell Sailor if he comes back, otherwise Michael Greenfield.
Early Tip: Wendell Sailor to return for one more season... and we'll all wish he'd play forever.
As painful as it was to watch the Parramatta bandwagon overflow in September - the Eels played out of their skins and deserved to make the Grand Final in this Top 8 era that rewards mediocrity during the season. The Jarryd Hayne Show was captivating and the only downside to their Grand Final defeat was the denial of a premiership for Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless who have been great servants of the game during their careers. Still - if you believe the bookies and delusional Parramatta fans who want to blame the referee for their Grand Final defeat - the Eels will be amongst it yet again in 2010. Hence what I think probably doesn't mean a great deal... but for the record Feleti Mateo could form a lethal combination with Hayne next season and get them back into the Final Four.
Best Signing: Justin Poore.
Early Tip: Daniel Mortimer or Kris Keating to displace halfback Jeff Robson by Round 6.
May never have been able to field their best team for most of 2009 due to Brett Stewart's injury (amongst other things) but their inept performance in their qualifying final loss to the Storm was embarrassing for the 2008 champions. Apart from Brett Stewart who had a dig, their best players Matt Orford, Anthony Watmough, Jamie Lyon and Glenn Stewart were poor in the semi final and a team that should have been able to defend their title was out on their ear straight away. Coach Des Hasler needs to assess how his team can get back to their best and convince Anthony Watmough to re-sign as quickly as possible to avoid his status becoming a distraction. They'll contend again but it is hard to say how good they'll be in the regular season.
Best Signing: Joe Galuvao.
Early Tip: Steven Matai to get penalised regularly for shoving the marker after playing the ball (we hope!).
Made the Finals for the first time after their re-admission to the competition in 2007 but blew a golden opportunity to take a run at the title by losing both semi finals meekly. The Titans (along with the Dragons and Bulldogs) had built their regular season success around a certain style and decided to stick with that when the game's lifted in intensity in September - all three clubs were then bounced out of the competition before the Grand Final. Their elimination final loss to the Eels was a classic case of trying to score points from one source and one source only - the last tackle kick from Scott Prince. They scored 2 points in 80 minutes and looked a very ordinary outfit playing out of their league in the Finals. Still have yet to settle on their favoured combination for William Zillman, Mat Rogers and Preston Campbell and it showed their attack up badly in September. They won't repeat their 2009 regular season success next year, despite how rounded their squad looks on paper.
Best Signing: Joseph Tomane.
Early Tip: The backline to start the season will be: 1. Zillman 2. Gordon 3. Rogers 4. Tomane 5. Mead 6. Campbell 7. Prince - but given John Cartwright's tinkering habit I guarantee that will not be the combination all year though.    
This high purely on the Terry Campese factor. He was hamstrung in a poor attacking system introduced by Coach David Furner in 2009 but has been promised more freedom next year as Furner realised his style needs tweaking. Have invested the majority of their cap room in local juniors and will live and die by their success. They could be great to watch or just as painful as 2009 when they were a very ordinary unit in attack. If hooker Travis Waddell is given the keys to the #9 jumper (after key 2009 signing Stuart Flanagan was black listed by Furner early in the season) then the Raiders might improve remarkably - if only because Alan Tongue at lock makes the team better because he's not at hooker. And let me clarify - Tongue is very good at lock for the team.
Best Signing: No signings for 2010... stumped as you are.
Early Tip: Terry Campese to carry the team on his back for a period during the season ala Jarryd Hayne and get the Raiders into playoff contention... 
Have only a handful of quality players (Petero Civoniceva, Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis & Trent Waterhouse) and a lot of averageness. Luke Walsh was ordinary in the final few weeks of the season and the team's issue at halfback doesn't look solved quite yet, as the Panthers threw away a Top 8 spot in the last month. A number of youngsters have big roles to play in the team in 2010 including Wade Graham, Lachlan Coote, Masada Iosefa at five-eighth, fullback and hooker - and of course underachieving second rower Frank Pritchard. Coach Matthew Elliott has brought in some fringe first graders to round out the squad but this side will live and die on its core group.
Best Signing: Daine Laurie.
Early Tip: Frank Pritchard to finally put a season together showcasing his ability week in week out.
Were poor in 2009 and failed to make the Finals by quite a distance in the end. The loss to the Knights in Round 24 when they led 22-8 at halftime in a game they had to win. With that in mind you can only think that even if Matthew Bowen was healthy the Cowboys recent history of mental fragility is a massive barrier to success. The other is Johnathan Thurston is unlikely to re-sign and an early defection for 2011 might be a huge distraction for the team if they struggle out of the gate. They have a roster with enough talent to play Finals Football but they have serious issues chasing points in must-win games and Thurston is as much to blame as anyone for dropping his bundle when they are getting smacked. No confidence in them returning to the top level of the league in 2010.
Best Signing: Shannon Gallant.
Early Tip: Johnathan Thurston to announce he is leaving the club by May.

Won three of their last four to make the Finals in 7th spot but were promptly dispatched by a better Bulldogs team in their Qualifying Final. Injuries hurt the Knights in that game with two of their best (Isaac De Gois & Zeb Taia) non-factors but the team's loss to lowly Canberra in Round 25 when they could've secured a Finals spot, told you they were pretending in 2009. The players gave up on former Coach Brian Smith when it was announced he was taking the Roosters job for 2010 and incoming Coach Rick Stone managed to cuddle up to them for the final few weeks to get the team back on track. There's a lot riding on the ability of Jarrod Mullen in 2010 to get the Knights back to the dance but even with Kurt Gidley alongside him - their competitive fortunes probably rest on the return of big Ben Cross up front.
Best Signing: Evarn Tuimavave.
Early Tip: Jarrod Mullen to be the NSW Halfback for Game I... beyond that... Knights to start well but struggle for the majority of the season.
If the Roosters let Willie Mason go they are not going to be a factor in 2010 but if they do get Jason Ryles alongside reformed (cough) bad boy Todd Carney, Braith Anasta, Mitchell Pearce and a fully fit Anthony Minichiello... they'll still be also-rans. That's not to say that new Coach Brian Smith isn't going to be a positive for the club - they need a fresh start and a new game plan to move forward. But without Mason the club won't have a significant presence up front alongside the highly under-rated Nate Myles. Ryles (has he signed? We're still trying to figure that out) is a good buy and young forward Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and speedy outside back Phil Graham improve the squad - but they need Mason.
Best Signing: Brian Smith & Jason Ryles.
Early Tip: He'd be foolish to go play Rugby in Japan because he's got a lot to offer the game but Willie Mason might be as good as gone... very sad.
This was an awful football team for most of 2009. They had built their 2008 success on a strong defence and good kick chase - and upon their return from the off-season they forgot how to tackle. Well that's a stretch - they still put in the effort but the team looked spent from 2008 and Trent Barrett was not the playmaking factor Coach Ricky Stuart needed him to be after Brett Kimmorley was let go. Losing Brett Kearney to injury in Round 1 was also a big blow but the team just looked devoid of points for most of the season and Stuart has to try something different for 2010 for the sake of their fans. Cronulla won't get off the bottom of the ladder by tackling alone - they need some spark in attack. Adam Cuthbertson, Paul Aiton and rookie Albert Kelly all have the potential to help in that area but the style has to open up first.
Best Signing: Paul Aiton.
Early Tip: Ricky Stuart needs to open up the offensive game plan to give the Sharks a realistic shot at getting off the bottom rung of the ladder - but I fear he won't until it's too late.
The Sharks were bad in 2009 but at times the Warriors were even worse. Coach Ivan Cleary clearly was making it up as he went along once the team's hot start cooled off and they looked like a reserve grade outfit at times when Steven Price wasn't playing. If Brent Tate comes back from injury and can contribute they can probably win half their home games but with their 85th halves combination in three seasons - winning on the road will be a massive challenge. I tipped them to win the comp in 2009 when every team was fully fit and you only had their 2008 performance to judge them on... so putting them here at the foot of the table entering 2009 is only fair.
Best Signing: Brett Seymour.
Early Tip: If the Warriors lose 4 of their first 5 - Cleary won't have a job beyond Round 5.

Who do you think will win the competition?

Rugby League fans - get excited, Slammin' Sam Burgess is here where he belongs. (click to view full article published February 8, 2010)

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